Do you know what a great customer experience feels like, or looks like, or sounds like? Some businesses never seem to get it right, not for lack of trying, but for lack of knowing. Here’s an example of a truly magnificent customer experience to get you and your team talking. It’s taken from my book, The Power of Promise: How to Win and Keep Customers by Telling the Truth About your Brand, available on Amazon.
Years ago, my spouse, Robert, and I were at the Burbank Airport heading to Sacramento for Christmas with our families. We carried with us a beautiful set of six steak knives we had purchased in Paris. The knives were boxed, wrapped, and neatly tucked inside our carry-on luggage.
As we went through security, we were pulled aside and asked if we had knives in our luggage. “We do,” we exclaimed and proceeded to tell the security agent that they were manufactured by the same company that made swords for Napoleon, and, in fact, had the same bee insignia on the top of the blade as his weapons did.
We even told him about this great shop in Paris where we purchased them and how excited we were to give them to our sister for Christmas. I remember telling him that we had a set ourselves at home, and they are as sharp as surgical steel.
The guy looked at us like we were high and said, “They’re knives.”
“Yes, just like we told you.”
He explained that six surgically sharp steak knives were not allowed in the cabin, as they could be used as weapons, which upon reflection makes sense given that they were made by a weapons manufacturer.
My spouse replied, “But they’re wrapped! We would never tear the wrapping paper!” To be fair, they really were beautifully wrapped in some pretty snazzy paper, and we never would have thought of ripping it off.
He was not moved, “Go check them. Now!”
We rushed back to the counter and told the agent what had happened. She was very sweet saying that she would never have touched the wrapping paper either, but rules being what they were she needed to check the knives for us.
The problem was that our bags were already on the plane. The kind agent asked for our claim tag numbers and a description of our bags. She promised us that she would personally take the knives out to the plane, locate one of the bags, place the knives in it, and give us a big “thumbs up” from the tarmac.
If you know Burbank, you know that the terminal is lined with windows at the tarmac level, and you can clearly see what’s going on with each aircraft. We waited by the windows and watched her run out to the plane. In a couple of minutes, she emerged from the baggage hold, gave us the thumbs up, and we proceeded back to security. Once we retrieved our bags in Sacramento, we opened them up and found our knives safely tucked inside.
I called Southwest to commend the employee and wrote a letter to her supervisor as well. This was an experience that happened in 2000, and I’m still retelling it to this day. It made the kind of lasting impression that cannot be achieved by any other means. It was worth more than the very best advertising. And it illustrates so many points that relate to brand and customer experience.
Southwest’s brand symbol is the heart. They consider humanity and a personal touch to be the mainstays of their culture. They empower their team members with flexibility in how they deal with various customer service challenges. They talk about “LUV,”
and their pre-flight announcements are legendary. Three of their core values are having a Fun-LUVing Attitude, having a Servant’s Heart, and providing “Friendly Customer Service.” (A quick quiz: What are the top three reasons from the PwC study that causes customers to stop doing business with a brand? You got it! Bad employee attitude, unfriendly customer service, and not trusting the company. Years ago, without any survey, Southwest got it right.)
We experienced all of that and more. We were never made to feel anything other than valued. Remember that the counter agent told us she would never have opened wrapping paper that nice either. She went so far above and beyond as to run out to the plane herself, thereby taking personal responsibility for the delivery of our gift.
This is something that I refer to as 100% responsibility. In fact, if you would have told us that she was really one of the chief executives of the company or a major stockholder, we would have believed it.
But why? Why did this experience have such an impact? Because she approached our situation from the perspective of ownership. She knew that her company’s reputation was on the line with every customer interaction. We had shared with her some of the details of the knives, what made them special, and why the person we were giving them to was going to love them, and she had listened with genuine interest and enthusiasm. She recognized that this was far more than just a set of knives. It was a heartfelt expression of love for one of our family members, and how she handled the situation reflected that she could see how important they were.
The Southwest agent clearly understood that brand is emotional and customer experience is relationship based, and it showed.
About the Author
Ken Mosesian’s life has been punctuated with extraordinary experiences. Living and working in Switzerland after his junior year in high school and then exploring Europe after the program ended, opened Ken’s eyes to a world far beyond the small farming community in which he grew up.
In an “anything but traditional” career path, Ken earned his private pilot’s license, studied piano and pipe organ, worked as a Mental Health Counselor and as an Emergency Medical Technician, and served as an Executive Director of a national non-profit organization. His consulting work and public speaking focuses on brand and customer experience, and leadership and communication. Ken loves traveling the world with his husband and spending time at home with their Boxer.
Every one of these experiences contributed richly to who Ken is today. His first book – The Power of Promise: How to Win and Keep Customers by Telling the Truth About your Brand– is focused on something that Ken sees as critical not only to our personal and professional lives, but to our future well-being as a society: your word is your bond. No exceptions.